I have a friend who’s never been to Israel. She’s never been to Israel but she’s travelled all over the world and is fascinated by other cultures. She’s never been to Israel but her best friend lives in Israel (that’s me) and has lived in Israel for almost twenty-five years. This friend will do, and has done, just about anything to see her friend that lives in Israel (me) over the course of what basically counts as a generation. This includes travelling repeatedly to places Philadelphia, the Jersey Shore, New York and Paris. And if you ask me, in her heart of hearts, she would love to come to Israel.
So why hasn’t she come to Israel?
On my way to the airport a few days ago my teenaged children tried to understand why this friend, who they very much love, and who they know counts as one of my besties, hasn’t come to Israel.
After all, why wouldn’t someone want to come to Israel?
Zooming along in the streamlined, double decker train to the airport they each began to enumerate reasons that she should.
“Look at this beautiful train!” My son started first. “She’ll love the train. It’s so efficient and it goes right into the airport.”
“Mommy,” my daughter continued, “You tell her. You tell her that the minute she steps out of the train she’s literally steps from the US Airways check-in.”
“American Airways,” my son corrected. He’s right, but so is she; old habits die hard.
“And really mom, this airport is so beautiful. Puts the one in Philadelphia to shame. She won’t believe it.”
“No, she won’t,” I confirmed, because truly no one can. Ben Gurion Airport is pretty much cutting edge—sleek, attractively designed, efficient and super easy to negotiate. It’s always a shocking delight to those who arrive in Israel for the first time and expect to be ushered to the terminal on camels.
“Oh, and make sure she knows that the train ride to our local station only takes fifty minutes.” My daughter confirmed this important detail with a firm nod of her head.
“And I’ll be there,” my son the new driver blurted out. “I’ll be there to take her bag and greet her with open arms.”
There was a pause and then they continued.
“And does she know about the food?” My daughter crooned. “She’d love the food.”
Here’s where I got enthusiastic. “Yes, the food. She’d really enjoy the food.”
“So why doesn’t she come?” my son asked again, as if for the first time.
“Mommy, tell her. Tell her what you told us about Israel being voted one of the top foodie destinations worldwide. Tell her how many amazing restaurants there are. Just tell her. Then, for sure, she’ll come.”
“I will sweetie, I will.” I sighed and stared out the window. The train moved quickly but I could still discern pockets of cultivated green fields, neighborhoods filled with low-slung cottages in various shades of white and tall apartment buildings reaching for the sky--all connected by snaking black-topped highways and dusty country roads.
Yes, I thought to myself, I’ll tell her. After all, we have so much to offer. Absolutely everything is right here.
“Mom,” my son persisted. “She’ll love the beach. Tell her how we can walk to the beach from the house. Tell her how the sun sets over the sea. It’s exactly the opposite from the Jersey Shore.”
“And Mommy. If she comes we can take her shopping in Sheinkin; we can take her to the souk. She’d love it. She loves shopping. She should come with the girls. They love shopping too.”
“And doesn’t she want to meet your friends?”
“She does…she does,” I confirmed. “She’d love to meet my friends.”
“So?” Both of my children looked up at me, wide-eyed, wondering, curious as to how I was going to explain why by best friend of almost 45 years hasn’t come to visit me in Israel.
I met their gaze head on. “She’ll come. She will. I’m sure she will. She’ll come when she and her husband realize that it’s safe. Because they’re sure it isn’t.”
“Why isn’t it safe?” my daughter asked, truly perplexed.
My son took over. “It is. But I know what mom’s talking about. I know what everybody thinks. They don’t know anything.”
I saw the look on his face; the disappointment in being so misunderstood--in being a part of something so beautiful and so extraordinary and so worthy of at least one small visit but instead being shunned. He looked sad.
I reached my arm around his broad shoulders for just a moment, about as long as he’d allow, and gave him a gentle squeeze.
“She’ll come--she will; and she’ll love it.”
“We’ll take her to the Blue Bus.”
I laughed. “Oh, I’m not sure her stomach can handle that.”
“She doesn’t like hummus?” he asked, quite serious.
“Mommy, we’ll take her to Minato. She loves sushi.”
We all laughed. The irony was clear. We were going to bring our friend all the way to the Middle East to eat Sushi because, yes, that’s what we, the locals, eat.
It was perfect.
The train continued to progress toward the airport.
We had a plan.